Yes, it's been awhile since I read the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. But my curiosity was piqued when I learned there was a new prequel to the series called Before Green Gables. Written by Halifax author Budge Wilson, the release of this book is timed to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the first Anne of Green Gables, a classic coming of age story and series.
I picked up the prequel with suspended hopes for a good read. Prequels written by other than the original author can be disappointing. But within a few chapters, I knew I had a book to savor. The original Anne was eleven years old. The prequel begins with her birth. She is much adored by her parents Bertha and Walter Shirley, two newly married school teachers. By the time Anne is 3 months old, both her parents have died. She is handed off from pillar to post, treated like a servant, not much loved, and often deprived of school. Her red hair and freckles attract jeering. But oh, how she thrives. She finds wonder in every small thing, and has a huge amount of imagination and curiosity. Yes, eventually she finds herself in an orphanage. How she ends up going to a good home on Prince Edward Island (where the original series begins), is a splendid read if you, like me, have a soft spot for orphans.
My mother was orphaned at age 12. We both like books about orphans. In fact, Mom wants me to write a good book someday "and be sure and put an orphan it it"...
There is a special quality to novels written for adults which feature children. The good ones put us squarely back into that closer-to-the-ground point of view. I'm thinking of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which so acutely portrayed the sorrows and joys of young Francie Nolan at the turn of the century. Her Irish father was a drinker and a dreamer, her mother bore many burdens, and Francie herself was quite a worrier. There was not much money in the Nolan household, yet there was plenty of love. Francie, like Anne Shirley, loved to read and did well at school. She persevered, she reached for more. Perhaps it is this uphill battle kind of plot that pulls me in, along with a deep sense of caring for such children who face tough times.
Another favorite girl child appears in Cape Ann by Faith Sullivan; her name is Lark Ann Erhardt. Set in Harvester, Minnesota during the Great Depression, Cape Ann is a good old fashioned read full of smiles and tears. Lark Ann is only age 6 and has many imaginative misconceptions about the Catholic Church, her parent's wobbly marriage and life in general. It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (high praise, indeed).
Other beloved child-centered novels: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (combining thriller elements with loss of innocence), Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, and Lemon Jelly Cake by Madeline B. Smith. I wouldn't want to read them all one after another, but picking one up in between other more adult-centric fiction is pure refreshment. Such touches of magical thinking and childlike wonder work like a prescription for world weariness. Take one and see how you feel in the morning!